Wittgenstein: On Certainty, §66—78

66. I make assertions about reality, assertions which have different degrees of assurance. How does the degree of assurance come out? What consequences has it? We may be dealing, for example, with the certainty of memory, or again of perception. I may be sure of something, but still know what test might convince me of error. I am e.g. quite sure of the date of a battle, but if I should find a different date in a recognized work of history, I should alter my opinion, and this would not mean I lost all faith in judging.

67. Could we imagine a man who keeps on making mistakes where we regard a mistake as ruled out, and in fact never encounter one? E.g. he says he lives in such and such a place, is so and so old, comes from such and such a city, and he speaks with the same certainty (giving all the tokens of it) as I do, but he is wrong. But what is his relation to this error? What am I to suppose? 

68. The question is: what is the logician to say here? 

69. I should like to say: "If I am wrong about this, I have no guarantee that anything I say is true." But others won't say that about me, nor will I say it about other people. 

70. For months I have lived at address A, I have read the name of the street and the number of the house countless times, have received countless letters here and given countless people the address. If I am wrong about it, the mistake is hardly less that if I were (wrongly) to believe I was writing Chinese and not German. 

71. If my friend were to imagine one day that he had been living for a long time past in such and such a place, etc.etc., I should not call this a mistake, but rather a mental disturbance, perhaps a transient one. 

72. Not every false belief of this sort is a mistake. 

73. But what is the difference between mistake and mental disturbance? Or what is the difference between my treating it as a mistake and my treating it as mental disturbance? 

74. Can we say: a mistake doesn't only have a cause, it also has a ground? I.e., roughly: when someone makes a mistake, this can be fitted into what he knows aright. 

75. Would this be correct: If I merely believed wrongly that there is a table here in front of me, this might still be a mistake; but if I believe wrongly that I have seen this table, or one like it, every day for several months past, and have regularly used it, that isn't a mistake?

76. Naturally, my aim must be to give the statements that one would like to make here, but cannot make significantly. 

77. Perhaps I shall do a multiplication twice to make sure, or perhaps get someone else to work it over. But shall I work it over again twenty times, or get twenty people to go over it? And is that some sort of negligence? Would the certainty really be greater for being checked twenty times?

78. And can I give a reason why it isn't?

(Wittgenstein: On Certainty, §66—78)

Wittgenstein and poetry

Garrett Caples at the Poetry Foundation — "I came to poetry fairly late; that is, I was probably a senior in college before I could read it with anything like enthusiasm. This was a direct result of studying Wittgenstein with James Guetti, an eccentric, disgruntled professor of English at Rutgers University. Jim’s passions seemed to be gambling (horses, cards, dice), fishing, writing, and drinking. (A former football player at Amherst College, he also loved sports, but you didn't bet on sports, because that was unsportsmanlike.) Yet somewhere along the way—after 1980, to judge by his published work—he added Wittgenstein to the mix of his obsessions, culminating in his 1993 book Wittgenstein and the Grammar of Literary Experience, whose publication fortunately coincided with the period during which I studied with him. Would I have become a poet without encountering this man and, through him, Wittgenstein? I’m inclined to say no."

Questions and speculations: Douglas Hofstadter on music, Wittgenstein, and artificial intelligence

Question: You seem to be saying that AI programs will be virtually identical to people, then. Won't there be any differences? Speculation: Probably the differences between AI programs and people will be larger than the differences between most people. It is almost impossible to imagine that the "body" in which an AI program is housed would not affect it deeply. So unless it had an amazingly faithful replica of a human body -- and why should it? -- it would probably have enormously different perspectives on what is important, what is interesting, etc. Wittgenstein once made the amusing comment, "If a lion could speak, we would not understand him." It makes me think of Rousseau's painting of the gentle lion and the sleeping gypsy on the moonlit desert. But how does Wittgenstein know? My guess is that any AI program would, if comprehensible to us, seem pretty alien. For that reason, we will have a very hard time deciding when and if we really are dealing with an AI program, or just a "weird" program.

Question: Will we understand what intelligence and consciousness and free will and "I" are when we have made an intelligent program?

Speculation: Sort of -- it all depends on what you mean by "understand". On a gut level, each of us probably has about as good an understanding as is possible of those things, to start with. It is like listening to music. Do you really understand Bach because you have taken him apart? Or did you understand it that time you felt the exhilaration in every nerve in your body? Do we understand how the speed of light is constant in every inertial reference frame? We can do the math, but no one in the world has a truly relativistic intuition. And probably no one will ever understand the mysteries of intelligence and consciousness in an intuitive way. Each of us can understand people, and that is probably about as close as you can come.

[From Gödel, Escher, Bach; 679-670.]

Ray Monk on Wittgenstein and scientism

"...Wittgenstein’s thought has made very little impression on the intellectual life of this century. As he himself realised, his style of thinking is at odds with the style that dominates our present era. His work is opposed, as he once put it, to “the spirit which informs the vast stream of European and American civilisation in which all of us stand.” Nearly 50 years after his death, we can see, more clearly than ever, that the feeling that he was swimming against the tide was justified. If we wanted a label to describe this tide, we might call it “scientism,” the view that every intelligible question has either a scientific solution or no solution at all. It is against this view that Wittgenstein set his face."

Trinity College to provide access to Wittgenstein's Nachlass

From the press release: A new facsimile edition of the entire Nachlass, using cutting edge technology, is in the process of being completed, and it is anticipated that the first images will be available by the end of September 2014. Importantly, the Nachlass will be made available on an open-access basis. The project has been planned for some considerable time, and is made possible through a partnership between Trinity College Cambridge, the University of Bergen and the Stanhill Foundation.

Pablo D'Iorio's Nietzsche Source may also be of some interest.